Friday, 27 December 2013

Colour bombs: Shonibare, a big bird at Christmas... and more rainbows

Amid all the decidedly unfestive rain, puddles and grey unpleasantness that even the fairy lights and tinsel are struggling to enliven, I was delighted to come across some determinedly bright splashes of artistic colour over Christmas.

The first was on the lawn outside the Queen's House in Greenwich Park: a large painted metal work by Yinka Shonibare, appropriately named Wind Sculpture and seemingly made of yellow, green and orange Dutch-wax cloth that remained proudly unruffled by the strong gusts of rain-filled wind. A shaft of African sunshine in southeast London. (I'll be blogging about the Shonibare exhibition later.) 

The next day, Christmas Eve, I was walking across Trafalgar Square in the inevitable damp gloom when my eye was drawn - how could it fail to be - by the bright blue Hahn/Cock by Katharina Fritsch on the Fourth Plinth. I had seen pictures, and read the news stories about its unveiling by the Mayor of London with all the inevitable bad puns about Boris's cock, but my goodness I hadn't realised it was so HUGE. And so BLUE. Magnificent.

To round off the year with another blast of midwinter colour (it's hail today just for a change) here are the finished rainbow quilt commissions from my previous blog.

 I am indebted to  Mary Grace McNamara for the design of the boy's quilt, above, complete with instructions - I love the way the coloured squares seem to dance over the surface - and to my quilting friends who helped to supply fabrics for the girl's quilt, below: by using their pale colours in the middle (I don't usually do pale!) I realised they could give the illusion of sunlight shining through the rainbow.

Here's hoping for a light-filled, colourful and creative year ahead.  

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Rainbow quilts: an adventure in pure colour

Everyone loves rainbows.

I'm fairly confident no one would contradict that statement.

As a child and into early adulthood my recurrent dream was of  being irresistibly drawn to try to touch a rainbow while at the same time fearing its other-worldly power. In the few dreams where I was able to put my hand into the colours without the mirage evaporating as I approached, a shock, like electricity, thrilling but terrifying, would pass through my body. Even now, sometimes a photograph like the one above, or a real view of the end of a rainbow, from a passing car perhaps, can magic up the same tingling enchantment and frisson of fear.

It was with a similar, but far less visceral, mix of emotions that I accepted the commission to make two rainbow quilts - excitement, with a touch of anxiety. Because let's be honest, images of rainbows, like sunsets and kittens, can easily sink into kitsch and cliche. Some of my favourite exceptions are by Sir Peter Blake, of Sgt Pepper's fame  - among his rainbow designs is a multi-coloured floor that cheers up the waiting area of a clinic at University College Hospital, which I discovered with delight a few weeks ago  - and the iconic album cover of Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon.

(I pondered the significance of album covers being a factor in both choices, and decided that Pop Art has it right: perhaps it is foolish to try to add to nature's rainbow. Instead, the only way to go is to subtract - reducing the rainbow to sharply delineated bands of pure colour.)

I drew up a few designs, but the two that were chosen were both "charm" quilts - meaning that each square is a different fabric. I confess I hadn't thought through the implications when I submitted my ideas, but quickly came to the realisation that I would need to supply 48 "little boy" fabrics and 88 "little girl" fabrics. What a challenge. But what fun. 

And of course the challenge didn't stop there.  Each fabric had  to be in a predominant red, orange, yellow, green, blue or purple. And they had to go together; those with a slight grey, brown or even pink tone were ruthlessly rejected, however lovely in themselves. And then there were the "maverick" fabrics: ones that I didn't expect to fit in but, because of their bold colours - bright turquoise and a wavy red and yellow stripe -  were essential to make the whole sparkle. 

Small-scale dots and stars had to be balanced against larger designs, whether Superman or a full-blown flower. And talking of flowers,  in many ways the little girl's quilt was easier, although I needed twice as many squares, because so many fabric designs rely on flowers to bring in colour. There are far fewer checks, stripes, spots, dots, dinosaurs, cars and animals with which to make a boy's quilt. (To save me going off on another full-scale rant, check out my earlier posting on men and flowers.) 

I don't wish to appear as if I am complaining. It is easy and seductive to over-intellectualise one's work, but making rainbows has allowed me to revel in pure colour. Designing a child's quilt magics me back to the child that dreamed of walking among rainbows. And that has been a pure joy. 

The quilt "tops" are now complete, and I shall let The Beast loose over the next few days. See the finished quilts in a future blog posting...